Our latest trip was to Nice and Monte Carlo with Outdoor Rec. Erin and her husband had signed up for the trip as well, so we got to spend the day exploring with them. It was a huge adventure for such a short day!
Our bus left from Vicenza at 3AM and drove through the night to arrive in Nice around 10. Nice, as you probably know, is a town on the French Riviera that’s been a tourist and vacation destination since the dawn of time. It’s a beautiful place, and it felt so good to be on the water again with the faint smell of salt in the air.
We started by checking out the “chateau” that isn’t actually a castle at all. A large hill rises over Nice and if you make the climb to the top there are ruins of an old church. As far as I could figure out, this is the “chateau.” The archaeological site is fenced off and not particularly exciting. But don’t worry, because there are plenty of other things to see at the top of the hill! If you have kids, there’s a jardin d’enfants (children’s garden) where they can play on the playground. There are also some snack bars and a souvenir shop….
But the real reason to make the climb is, undeniably, the view. From one side you can see the port (Port Lympia) with its megayachts and sailboats. From the other side, you can see the beach curving away toward the horizon. The water is dazzlingly blue, and it’s a spot you won’t want to miss. If you can’t or really just don’t want to make the hike, there’s even a lift for you at the bottom.
On the way back down the steep paths, we stumbled across this pretty waterfall (we could hear it from the snack bar at the top, but didn’t know where to find it). Luckily it was a warm day and the sun was shining, because the spray from the waterfall would have been awfully chilly otherwise. Naturally we had to take a picture or two. Nothing says romance like a waterfall, right?
Finally we made our way back down to the street and headed over to Cours Saleya, the street where you’ll find Nice’s outdoor market. I can’t speak to the hours because we went around 11 on a Saturday and saw some tents packing up around 12:30. However, I found some reviews that mention the market being open at night. Anyway, the market was bustling when we were there. You can find fruits and veggies, spices, flowers, bread, soap, and candies. There were even a couple vendors selling souvenirs. The market stretches down the street and it’s surrounded on both sides by restaurants.
We were starving by that point, so believe it or not we chose and American-themed restaurant. Honestly, I think we were just happy to get away from Italian food. Anyway, the food turned out to be amazing, and Alex and Erin were pleased to find that liters of Hoegaarden were on the menu.
Before long a band of 4 snazzily-dressed guys came out and began playing some American classics (definitely heard some Elvis and Johnny Cash in there), working their way down the street with a hat for tips. Our other source of entertainment was watching 3 drunk Frenchmen at the restaurant across from us as they made cat-calls at passing women and accidentally smashed all their wine glasses in one fell swoop.
Our time was growing shorter so we figured we ought to see a couple of the local sights before heading to the beach. We found the opera house, though we didn’t go in because we assumed they wouldn’t let people inside the the actual theater. Then we found a book market on our way to the cathedral. The cathedral was actually kind of a bummer because a good deal of the inside was covered up, presumably for renovations. It was still pretty though.
Finally, we were ready to hit the beach. A glorious, wide walking/biking path runs along the beachfront and I found myself drooling over it, wishing we had something like that in Vicenza. (Despite the number of people who walk and bike every day in our town, there are very few areas with bike lanes and even some areas without sidewalks.) By this time of the afternoon, the gorgeous day we were having had grown cold, dark, and windy. We were so excited to go relax on the beach, but clearly the weather had other plans for us.
The beach, sadly, is a stone beach instead of sand. It was a bitch to walk on, and even worse to sit on. Most of the beach-goers had comfy looking padded mats to lay on, but obviously we didn’t have anything of the sort. We only lasted about 15 minutes on the beach before we decided to keep walking to stay warm. Since swimming was out of the question, my favorite part of the beach was probably the sound the rocks made as the waves washed them in and out. They made muffled, underwater clicking and clacking noises that was actually much more magical than I can describe in words. I could have listened to it all day.
We walked toward the lighthouse at the end of the port with the intention of going all the way out to it. However, the path was fenced off halfway out. It was short enough climb over, but Erin and I decided to stay put while the boys explored, since climbing fences while wearing dresses is usually a bad life choice. Not to mention we were cold and tired and really just wanted some gelato. Lighthouses weren’t such a high priority under the circumstances.
After that we strolled back to the bus pickup spot, hoping we’d see a gelato stand on the way and were let down. At long last we got back on the toasty bus and I instantly fell asleep as we made our way to Monte Carlo. I’ll leave off with a panorama Alex took of me and the coastline.
Tips: March was a little too cold to swim, but the beach was relatively bare instead of swarming with tourists. April is probably the best time to visit and swim!
So. Monte Carlo. To tell the truth, Monte Carlo was kind of a let down for me. I was far more excited to see Nice in the first place, but I figured it would be exciting to check Monte Carlo out as well. For some reason, our bus drivers didn’t seem to know where to drop us off. So all of a sudden our guide was saying, “Uh, so we’re getting off here, good luck!” and we hurried off the bus because we were parked in a local bus stop where people were waiting.
It was nearly impossible to keep track of our guides. I still have no idea where they went, but they disappeared when we stopped to take a couple pictures of the fancy cars outside the casino. And naturally, the maps they provided were pretty much useless. Anyway, we figured we’d check out the casino at that point.
I have no desire to gamble, but Alex really wanted to try his hand in the casino. Our guides said that we could take our cameras into the lobby to take pictures, and that if we wanted to go into the game room it would cost €10 and you had to be well-dressed. However, the second we stepped through the doors we were instructed to check our cameras and backpacks in. So much for taking pictures.
As we were handing our belongings over, we realized that 3 of the 4 of us had left our passports on the bus in the hurry to get off. Why does that matter? you may ask. It matters because you need your passport to get into the casino, to prove that you’re not a Monaco resident. Apparently the residents of Monaco aren’t allowed to gamble in their own casino, because they don’t want the revenue to come from their own citizens. They just want to take everyone else’s money.
Anyway, so we couldn’t get into the casino and we had no idea where the buses were parked or where our trip leaders were. We had to forego the casino altogether.
We were all pretty grouchy after that. Here’s my “I swear I’m having fun” face. ————————> Not to mention we were in one of the most expensive cities in the world – sitting down for dinner wasn’t really an option. So we wandered around and saw part of the grand prix circuit, finally finding a grocery store where we could buy ourselves a sad dinner.
Personally, I’m done with Monaco. I don’t feel the need to ever go back. Monte Carlo is just a bunch of money-flaunting. Sure, I’m glad I can say I’ve been there, but I’ve probably never felt poorer in my life. Luckily we were with friends so we could laugh about it once our bad moods had worn off. I told Alex he can go back to the casino if he wants, but I’m all set. Monaco: ✓
Tips: If you want to go into the casino, DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT.
Coming up next: Innsbruck, Austria!